To many in San Francisco’s close-knit Chinese community, Allen Leung was an influential local leader and a successful business man, well known and respected. But in early 2006, the people of Chinatown were not aware that Leung was a man in fear for his life.
An examination of Leung’s resume reveals much to admire about the man, and one might have wondered what the community leader had to fear. By all accounts, Leung was an American success story. In 1971, at age 20, he left Hong Kong for the San Francisco Bay Area with little money and in pursuit of the American Dream. Once he arrived, he never looked back. The ambitious immigrant learned English and attended San Francisco State University where he graduated with a business degree and earned a real estate license. At the time, he was also working as a bilingual counselor at John O’Connell High School. Despite his many business interests and civic responsibilities, Leung still found the time to start a travel agency and then turn it into a thriving import-export business. The more successful Leung became, the more his wealth grew, and he was able to buy houses not only in San Francisco but also in Las Vegas and Florida. Leung got involved with the community and immersed himself in civic affairs. He became a volunteer Taiwan commissioner for the U.S., the highest honorary position for overseas pro-Taiwan leaders, even though he had never lived in Taiwan. According to friends and supporters, Leung was the “perfect” leader who was respectful to everyone, even if he disagreed with them. “Some people don’t like him, but he treats them nicely,” Bill Wong, another prominent Chinatown citizen, explained to the SFGate website. “He sometimes has a different opinion, but he always tries to compromise. You never hear him trying to do something in his own interests. He always thinks about the association (that Leung and Wong belonged to) and the Chinese community.” Leung projected a benevolent image, but he was no push-over. One night in April 1977, a burglar broke into his family home. Leung shot the intruder in the chest, killing him. Police ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide. Yet, Leung had a mysterious side. Few people knew that he was a leader in a secretive Chinese Tong organization called Hip Sing Tong, where he was known as Dragon Head. The word Tong means meeting hall or gathering place. The Tongs were founded in 17th century Imperial China, and in America they can trace their beginnings to the California Gold Rush and the mid-19th century before they spread to other parts of the country. In the U.S., the Tongs started off as a benevolent organization to help Chinese immigrants deal with discrimination, but according to U.S. authorities, the organization was already heavily under criminal influence by the time Leung became a member. Authorities suspected that the Tongs, including Hip Sing Tong, were into criminal activities like gambling, drugs, prostitution, and so-called “protection services,” which amounted to extortion. The Tongs are like secretive societies or sworn brotherhoods and will affiliate with Chinese gangs, which they often control for their own protection. In San Francisco, the Tongs became a powerful institution. “If you go and look at the history of Chinatown, the Tongs were always important,” Peter Huston, the author of Tongs, Gangs and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America, told the Walnut Creek, California-based Contra Costa Times. “As more and more people came from Hong Kong, they brought their organizations with them. In about the 1970s, the modern day type of street gang started to become prominent.” Yet, despite his influence and power, Leung lived in fear of certain younger members of his own Hip Sing Tong organization. Normally, the Chinese community does not deal with the local police because it has never really trusted the authorities.